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Nino and Me: An Intimate Portrait of Scalia's Last Years


Nino and Me: An Intimate Portrait of Scalia's Last Years

I begin this review with two confessions. Bryan Garner is a longtime friend. But he and I both know that our friendship would not prevent me from being completely truthful in a review of NINO AND ME. In addition to our friendship, Garner is one of the world’s paramount snoots, a term coined by David Foster Wallace to describe a person who cares intensely about words, usage and grammar. I am sure that he will not be upset if I criticize his book. But I am equally certain that if I do so with incorrect language or style, he will not hesitate to let me know.

It was through his legal writing that Garner and Justice Antonin Scalia forged a relationship that is detailed on the pages of NINO AND ME. Garner’s legal career is devoted to making attorneys and judges better writers. In the course of that career, he has written and spoken across America. Around 2005, Garner began taping interviews with state and federal judges on the art of judicial opinions and legal writing. Through a series of vividly described communications between him and Justice Scalia, an interview was accomplished. It led to discussions about co-authoring a book. Two books, MAKING YOUR CASE: The Art of Persuading Judges and READING LAW: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, resulted. As the titles indicate, non-lawyers will not be rushing to purchase and read them.

"The quality of the writing and the poignancy of the story make NINO AND ME one of the most enjoyable works I have read in many years."

However, NINO AND ME is a different type of book. It offers splendid and poignant insights into a personal relationship, and is a wonderful primer for anyone who aspires to become a better writer. A prime goal of Garner’s teaching is that lawyers and judges should avoid writing in the straitjacket of legalese, the technical language of the law. Garner’s writing accomplishes that task superbly.

The relationship between Garner and Scalia is portrayed here in extraordinary detail. The initial stages of their writing projects were talked about over dinners and other meetings, and readers will feel as though they are attending those discussions. Clearly both Scalia and Garner were drawn together by more than their respect for quality legal writing. Discussions moved easily into families, the arts, and a myriad of other subjects, each more interesting than the next.

Along the way, the collaborative process faced difficulties. In the beginning of their work, Garner and Scalia encountered complications that almost led to the entire project being shelved in its infancy. It is almost humorous to read of these problems, which simply seemed to be caused by the inability of these two writers to communicate verbally. They also seemed to have some technical communications issues as the more computer-proficient Garner often was technologically ahead of his colleague Scalia. In the early stages of their joint endeavor, Scalia terminated the project. He did so because he was not actually reading what Garner had produced; he was looking at rough notes, not the final product. When Garner finally realized what was going on, frantic phone calls followed, and the project was back on track.

Throughout NINO AND ME, there is an unmistakable sense of two colleagues developing a relationship and friendship. The writing process required give and take as well as diplomacy. Most enjoyable in the story is Garner’s portrayal of Scalia, who was a loving father, grandfather and friend to many. On the bench of the Supreme Court and in his written opinions, he could be a biting critic, but in his personal life he loved music, travel, food and fine wine. He truly was one of a kind.

Please do not shy away from this book because you think it is simply about lawyers or because Scalia’s political views were different from yours. The quality of the writing and the poignancy of the story make NINO AND ME one of the most enjoyable works I have read in many years.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 19, 2018

Nino and Me: An Intimate Portrait of Scalia's Last Years
by Bryan A. Garner

  • Publication Date: May 21, 2019
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Threshold Editions
  • ISBN-10: 1501181513
  • ISBN-13: 9781501181511